University of Alaska: Graduates reach first agreement after protests across state

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – This week, the University of Alaska and the Alaskan Graduate Workers Association – which represents all 425 student employees across three campuses – reached a tentative agreement on an initial contract running from July 1, 2024 to July 31. Reached December 1, 2026. The agreement comes after protests that took place in Fairbanks and Anchorage on Monday.

According to Sofia Sytniak, a member of the Alaskan Graduate Workers Association bargaining committee, negotiations with the university began in January. The parties met on Tuesday evening to reach an agreement.

“It was really exciting to finally be in a place where we can see these changes,” Styniak said, “and we are really happy that the university was able to meet us at the bargaining table and negotiate with us – and both.” We We were able to come to an agreement together.”

Sytniak said her goal in forming the union in 2022 was to have an equal seat at the table in decisions affecting graduate students.

The contract provides for salary increases for master's and doctoral students. The minimum wage for graduate students is now $29 an hour, an increase of about 17 percent. For master's students, the minimum is $24.50 per hour, an increase of 14 percent. The tentative agreement also includes annual minimum wage increases for the next three years the contract is in effect, a “Me Too” clause, fee waivers, collective bargaining agreement members, additional time off and health insurance provisions to be paid by the graduate students at the university.

Additionally, the contract contains a termination for cause clause, which is intended to clearly spell out in the agreement what justifies termination for graduate students.

“Our main concern was to get everyone above poverty wages,” Styniak said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get master’s students all the way to this threshold, but we can still achieve some increases.”

Allex Mahanna, a graduate student at UAA and union organizer with AGWA, said it was exciting to see the power of organized action throughout the process of reaching an agreement.

“I think it’s really exciting to see how we can work with the administration,” Mahanna said. “I also think that just the show of force that we are showing really shows how much everyone in our unit needed these changes.”

Sytniak emphasized that AGWA sees itself as part of the larger graduate labor movement across the country and said she appreciates the university for valuing her as graduate students.

Jonathon Taylor, UAA's director of public affairs, said the university's position is that it will work in good faith with the union until both parties can come to an agreement.

“We want the University of Alaska to be a school of choice for graduate students and people pursuing a doctorate,” Taylor said. “I think the most important takeaway is that we recognize that graduate students are important members of our academic community and that we truly care about their ideas and contributions.”

Taylor said the average time to agreement in most initial contract negotiations for collective bargaining units in the United States is about 450 days, but in this case it took just 96 days, which he called “pretty extraordinary.”

In order for the treaty to officially come into force, a few things still need to be done. Once the contract is approved by bargaining unit members and the Board of Regents, it will be submitted to the Alaska Department of Administration for review and financial terms will be considered by the Legislature. If approved, these would then be included in the state budget.

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Anna Harden

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